President of Russia Vladimir Putin: Mr Chaika, we agreed to take a closer look at the situation in the forest industry. I know this work is coming to an end.
Prosecutor General Yury Chaika: Mr President, at your instruction we conducted a large-scale inspection of the timber industry involving prosecution authorities, law enforcement agencies, and regulatory bodies. We have covered almost all of Russia’s forested regions, namely the Far Eastern, Siberian, Urals and Northwestern federal districts.
Among the goals we set for ourselves, the first was to evaluate the efficiency of public authorities and local self-governments, regulatory bodies and supervisory authorities in fulfilling their functions in the forestry sector. The second was to check statistical reporting (something you talked about at the State Council Presidium meeting in Ulan-Ude) about fire areas. We also verified illegal logging, as well as compliance with customs regulations for timber, compliance with the rule of law during inspections and when conducting criminal investigations into crimes in this sector.
Our results demonstrate that violations are rampant. First and foremost illegal logging, pollution of forest areas, and unauthorised occupation and use of forests comprise more than 50 percent of the violations revealed. The inventory and cadastral registration of forest lands are being conducted improperly. The government’s forest register is not being managed properly, and customs procedures are not being strictly enforced. Additionally, payments in arrears for using forests are not being collected. We have recovered only 3 percent of the outstanding debt, and the total amount currently stands at 8 billion rubles [$242 million]. Incidentally, this would constitute quite a bit of money for the budget.
We have uncovered offences related to corruption, and abuses of authority by government officials and local self-government ones when allocating forest areas for use. In our view, very serious problems have been uncovered regarding the widespread practice of illegal logging on a commercial scale based on municipal authorities’ documents. In principle, these documents should only allow municipalities to log for their own consumption. And yet we found commercial logging there, and almost everything was shipped to China.
In total prosecutors revealed over 5,000 violations. In order to address them we have made more than 1,000 submissions and 350 protests, including with regards to illegal acts by local self-government bodies in the Russian regions. In total, 500 statements of claim for damages from those responsible amount to almost 40 million rubles [$1.2 million]. We are also asserting that we should ban or suspend the operations of various structures engaged in activities that violate the law.
The inspections triggered 48 criminal cases, and 600 people were subject to administrative and disciplinary action. We included related criminal cases in our inspection; in addition to already existing materials, we registered 200 undocumented forestry-related crimes.
We overruled 2,000 illegal decisions not to institute criminal proceedings for illegal logging, and nearly 1,600 decisions about suspending legal proceedings or dropping criminal charges. We checked the inspection materials and gave specific instructions in 2,000 instances.
What do we think is necessary today? Undoubtedly, we will monitor all of the following: the way case investigations are proceeding, how our submissions are being implemented, and so on. What do we believe could fundamentally strengthen governmental oversight of the forestry industry? Without a doubt, we need to amend existing legislation. We believe that we need to finalise the draft federal law on state regulation of roundwood sales as soon as possible. This law has been under review by various ministries and departments for about three years now which, in my opinion, is a long time.
This law obliges all parties to provide information on the volume of forest products harvested, purchased, processed and sold. Records will be kept at all stages, including timber delivery, storage, conversion and transportation. All data will be consolidated in a single electronic information system, so there will be comprehensive analysis and oversight. We believe this will allow us to strengthen state control, stop illegal logging, and prevent timber of unknown origin from entering the market.
We believe, Mr President, that we need to amend and supplement the existing Forest Code. We must define what counts as illegal logging in forests (unfortunately, this concept is still vague). We must also determine the status of forests on lands designated for agriculture (this is also a serious problem), as well as set forth the procedure for their use and protection.
In our opinion, the inventory of forest lands and their cadastral registration should be proceeding faster. This work is underway, but it is very slow. At present the inventory covers only 18 percent of all forest lands, and only 14 percent of such sites have been registered in a cadastre. If we continue to act and move at this pace we will be working for decades – not for two to three years, but for decades.
In our view, we have to adopt rules for putting out forest fires, and regulate the procedures associated with using aviation technology and monitoring forests from space. We need to develop an appropriate federal programme.
Finally, Mr President, we believe it is important that Presidential plenipotentiary envoys to the federal districts develop programmes to decriminalise the forestry in their districts, and supervise their execution.
Why are we petitioning you about this? You will recall that we had a programme for decriminalising the oil industry in the Urals Federal District. It worked very well with all law enforcement agencies working under direction of the Presidential plenipotentiary envoy there, and the corresponding effect was significant. And I think that perhaps the time has come to develop a similar programme for the timber industry at the federal district level.
I think that these proposals and the fact that we will continue to work actively in this area will produce positive outcomes.
Vladimir Putin: Mr Chaika, first of all thank you for your work. Second, please give me your suggestions in writing so that I can formulate appropriate instructions for the Government and encourage the State Duma to consider these very important draft bills.
But of course – and you already talked about this, but I would like to pay special attention to it – you need to strictly monitor all the measures currently being implemented, including those related to investigating cases in which there is evidence that a crime has been committed. We don’t need a large number of prosecutions, but rather results regarding the situations and offences you identified. Please keep these things under your strict personal control.